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Sunday football notes

Patriots have passed on dealing with Welker

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / December 18, 2011
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Congratulations to linebacker Jerod Mayo on his new five-year contract extension. For a player who does it right on and off the field, it’s well deserved.

And the Patriots get a Tommy Point for giving a centerpiece a new contract before the final year of his deal.

Unlike teams such as the Packers and Steelers, the Patriots haven’t done that nearly enough. Hopefully it’s the signal of a smarter shift by the front office to give franchise bedrocks deals early that are beneficial to the player (security) and team (cap).

But Wes Welker, whose contract expires after this season, can’t be excited about it.

Hopefully Bill Belichick has already whispered in Welker’s ear that he will get his soon enough, because this was supposed to be Welker’s contract, not Mayo’s.

Mayo just had his deal renegotiated March 3, 2010. His cap number was going to be $5.233 million in 2012, the final year of the deal. Welker is still playing on the same contract he got in 2007 and is one of the best values in the league ($4.75 million this season), even before he led the league in catches and yards in 2011.

Welker’s résumé speaks for itself. He leads the league with 532 catches since 2007. Welker joined Marvin Harrison and Jerry Rice as the only NFL players to have four 100-catch seasons. And Welker set a career high with nine touchdowns this year.

Welker was on his way to a new contract before he tore his ACL in a meaningless game against the Texans to finish the 2009 season. Welker is such a team player that he came back quicker than most imagined and, despite clearly not being close to 100 percent, played in every game before he was given the final game of 2010.

No one is tougher. No one takes harder hits than Welker. And never once, publicly or privately, did Welker complain about his contract. He just kept playing his heart out.

And the Patriots decided not to reward that at this time.

A penny for Tom Brady’s thoughts about this. The offense is carrying this team. With Deion Branch nearing the end of his run, the 30-year-old Welker is the only receiver on the roster that’s even close to being dependable. And the Patriots are making him wait for his deal.

The big picture is the chance of Welker going anywhere are between slim and none. He’s going to get the franchise tag after this season - unless the Patriots want to face him two or three times a year after he signs with the Jets or even the Dolphins, his old team.

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, the tag for a receiver will drop from around $11.4 million to about $9.4 million, according to Andrew Brandt of NationalFootballPost.com. That’s a pretty good chunk of change for anybody and perhaps the team views it as a value. It’s the Patriots’ right to use the tag, and they can use it on Welker every year from here on out if they want.

And even though Welker might be a little bruised by this, there’s nothing to say the Patriots won’t come back next year and give him a long-term contract. Nothing soothes over a little perceived disrespect like a signing bonus with a lot of zeros next to it.

Welker may very well feel like he wants out right now - how could he not? - but he could be singing a much different tune in a matter of months. That’s the way it goes in the NFL.

But you can be sure that the Patriots won’t be getting a hometown discount if they want to lock up Welker. Still, with the threat of the tag, the player is in a bad spot. Keep signing the tag while risking money down the road, or take a slightly lesser deal with more security.

Business-wise, you can see the logic in the Patriots not giving Welker a long-term deal right now. That 5-foot-8-inch, 185-pound frame has a lot of miles on it.

At the end of his contract in 2017, Mayo will be 31. Getting Mayo done makes all the business sense in the world.

The Patriots have been a rousing success under Belichick because they take emotion out of every deal and do what’s right for the team. That doesn’t always mesh with the players, but there’s no disputing it has worked for the most part.

So Mayo gets rewarded. Welker has to wait.

Two questions remain: Will the team eventually give Welker the big, final contract he and every player wants? And if the Patriots don’t, will Welker cause waves about playing under the franchise tag after, in his mind, playing the good soldier wasn’t beneficial to him?

Only time will tell. It’s just a shame the Patriots couldn’t find a way to marry the business and personal side of this deal before it got to this point. But that’s the business.

TACKLING THE CHANCE

Crennel might keep K.C. job

We know many Patriots fans have visions of Romeo Crennel returning as defensive coordinator to rescue that side of the ball.

We doubt that would happen in any event - Bill Belichick seems to permanently move on when coaches leave the team - but if the Chiefs play well in the final three games, Crennel might be busy.

Crennel is the leading candidate to replace Todd Haley as Chiefs coach, according to several NFL sources. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, Belichick’s former director of player personnel, made Crennel interim coach after owner Clark Hunt had enough of Haley’s sideline antics and his undisciplined players, not to mention more and more empty seats.

If you thought Pioli was creating Patriots West in Kansas City before, you might not have seen anything yet.

Crennel, who was 24-40 in four seasons as coach of the Browns from 2005-08, said last week that he wants to be a head coach again.

And don’t be surprised if former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, after the house is cleaned in St. Louis, is Crennel’s offensive coordinator.

Of course, everything is predicated on the Chiefs showing some fight for Crennel in games against the Packers, Raiders, and Broncos to finish the season.

If given the job permanently, Crennel, 64, would be the league’s second-oldest coach behind Tom Coughlin, 65.

“When I left Cleveland one of the things that I felt was that my competitive nature, my competitive energy that I have was, ‘I’d like to be a head coach again and show I can get it done,’ ’’ Crennel said last week. “We won 10 in Cleveland in one year and probably we had a chance to make the playoffs and didn’t make it, and then the following year things kind of fell apart a little bit and they made a change.

“I would like to be a head coach again to show that I can do it, I know how to get it done, and I think the experience from the first time will make me better the next time around. Otherwise, I don’t know if I would have taken the position to try and finish out this season if I didn’t want to be a head coach again.’’

Crennel said he and Pioli haven’t discussed what could be at stake in the final three games.

“No, there were no conditions to this,’’ Crennel said. “The reason I came was because there were several guys on the staff that I worked with before and that I know. I know Scott and in this situation I wanted to try to be helpful in this situation, and I know that one of the ways that I could be helpful was to be the interim head coach because I’ve had head-coaching experience.

“My relationship with Scott is a good relationship, and so I felt I should do it for the organization as well as for myself.’’

Crennel expects to be a better coach the second time around.

“Well, the first time around you never know what to expect when you sit in a head coach’s seat, and there’s always something every day that you don’t expect,’’ he said. “Even when you plan, something will occur that you didn’t plan for and that you have to deal with and you have to handle. And that big-picture view that you have to take when you sit in that head-coaching seat, and having experienced it, I think that that gives me a chance or anybody a chance to be a better head coach their second time around.’’

As for McDaniels, if Pioli still firmly believes Matt Cassel is the franchise quarterback he’s going to ride with, McDaniels would be their best hope.

When Cassel had a Pro Bowl season in 2010 (against a soft schedule), it was in the offense of another former Patriots coordinator, Charlie Weis. Bill Muir has Patriots ties, but it wasn’t the same.

It would be a mistake to say Cassel flourished because of Weis’s tutoring. Several league sources said Haley had grabbed hold of teaching Cassel and wasn’t happy when Weis got the credit for Haley’s work. That’s why Weis abruptly left for the University of Florida before landing at Kansas this month.

If Crennel isn’t successful to finish the season, then McDaniels might be the next choice as head coach. Pioli likely would have preferred to hire McDaniels three years ago, but the Broncos had already hired him by the time the Chiefs got around to replacing Carl Peterson with Pioli.

After that, likely candidates include Jeff Fisher, Brian Billick, and possibly Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.

For now, though, Crennel has a shot - and it’s perhaps his last.

“People will look at it and say the circumstances are not great and all those good things, but in football, circumstances are not great and you have to line up and you have to play every week,’’ Crennel said.

“So this is a three-game season that I have and I’m going to do the very best that I can for these three games and we’ll see how it turns out.’’

HIGH-STAKES TV

League rules the airwaves

If we needed any more evidence that the NFL is the center of the American sports universe - did we? - we saw three networks, CBS, Fox, and NBC, pay an average of $3 billion more per season to broadcast league games starting in 2014 and ending in 2022.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft is the chairman of the league’s broadcast committee, and was involved in many face-to-face negotiations, including those with Steve Burke, the chief executive of NBC Universal.

A few notable things about the new deal, according to NFL sources:

■ This couldn’t have been done without the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement - with no opt-out - that was hashed out after a contentious lockout. One of the reasons why the players agreed to the deal was because they get 55 percent of broadcast revenue. That is much more assured of going up than NFL Ventures (45 percent) and local club revenue (40 percent), of which the players get a smaller percentage.

■ NFL fans are assured that games will be on free television in their home market for the next 11 years. And because so many of the games are on the three networks, cable and satellite companies can’t tell consumers that their price is going up because of the NFL. They can say that about basketball and baseball.

■ The NFL staying on free TV wasn’t always assured. The league left more money on the table from at least one cable outfit for NBC’s spot.

■ The next shoe to drop will be an entire season of Thursday night games. But that won’t happen until the schedule is expanded to 18 games.

■ The Thursday night package almost definitely won’t be on NFL Network. If that outlet gets any future games, it will be part of a post-Thanksgiving Saturday night package. At one time it was thought NFL Network would get more games and be a cash cow for the league. That hasn’t and won’t happen. The network will be settling into its niche of just being a haven for football junkies that constantly need a fix.

■ There is new flexibility to flip games from Fox to CBS and vice versa, depending on the schedule. Like with today’s Broncos-Patriots game, CBS will likely get preferential treatment about flexing because, not including the shared markets of New York and San Francisco/Oakland, Fox has teams in 10 of the top 15 television markets. CBS has two: Boston and Houston.

ETC.

Nickel package

1. The Packers should thank Tim Tebow’s good Lord because the Bronco quarterback’s amazing story has kept the pressure off Green Bay while it chases 16-0.

2. Last thing on Tebow: He’s the real deal as a person. I’m not big on kids idolizing sports figures because most don’t live up to the public image they’ve crafted. But Tebow is one of the few that holds up. Tom Brady, too.

3. The arrest of Bears receiver Sam Hurd on drug charges has a lot of front offices bracing. Hurd, who has since been cut, is rumored to have an NFL client list that could number more than 40 players, though Hurd’s attorney has denied Hurd supplied drugs to other players.

4. Can the Eagles and Jets just play to a draw just to see how their already disappointed fan bases react? This could have potential.

5. Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements reportedly interviewed for the Penn State job by phone Friday. Clements isn’t exactly Mr. Personality, so I can’t see him selling many tickets or wooing recruits, but the man is an excellent coach.

New England update

It seems like yesterday that former Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was the toast of Cambridge and upstate New York. He received a six-year, $59 million contract extension. But the injury-ravaged Bills have won just once in eight games. That has led some to question whether Fitzpatrick is the man to lead them. But coach Chan Gailey is unwavering. “I have no questions about him,’’ Gailey said. “We’ve all seen him do it. We know he can do it. I think as soon as we continue to work on getting everybody on the same page, I think Fitz will be fine.’’ Fitzpatrick completed just 38.2 percent of his passes (a career low) in last Sunday’s 34-13 loss at San Diego.

By the numbers

1: AFC team that has failed to reach the playoffs since 1999, the Bills, after the Texans clinched their first spot.

2: Coaches for the Dolphins in their first 30 seasons (George Wilson, Don Shula).

7: Coaches for the Dolphins in the last 16 seasons after Todd Bowles was named interim coach.

14: Fourth-quarter touchdown passes this season for Giants quarterback Eli Manning, which ties the record set by Johnny Unitas in 1959 and matched by Peyton Manning in 2006.

Short yardage

Quiz: When the Texans host the Panthers today, Jake Delhomme will be on the sideline as Houston’s backup. He quarterbacked Carolina in its only two previous games at Reliant Stadium. Can you name the two opponents? (Answer below) . . . Two of the Giants’ best players this season, end Jason Pierre-Paul and former UMass receiver Victor Cruz, aren’t on the Pro Bowl ballot. Neither was a starter when teams submitted their nominees in October. So Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Hakeem Nicks, and Mario Manningham are on the ballot . . . Pretty amazing story from 1500 ESPN Vikings beat writer Tom Pelissero (a Boston College grad) about how the team’s secondary was so unhappy with the calls from defensive coordinator Fred Pagac early in the season that they would call their own coverages. Needless to say, changes are coming in Minnesota on that side of the ball. The Vikings can start with the players . . . If the Chiefs have a prayer against the Packers today, it will be because of a pass rush that has 14 sacks in the past four games. The Packers are still without starting left tackle Chad Clifton and right guard Josh Sitton . . . Answer: Delhomme quarterbacked at Reliant Stadium against the Texans in 2007 (Lost, 34-21), and the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII (Lost, 32-29).

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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